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Market for employee buy-in.

In the 1980s and 1990s, organisations have had to grapple with a raft of management concepts - from total quality management to business process re-engineering. Once a company re-engineers successfully, its competitors feel they must do likewise or risk being placed at a competitive disadvantage. Yet the failure rates of such initiatives are legendary - between 50 percent and 70 percent, depending on which reports you read. Why, with such noble aims as rethinking and redesigning core processes to improve customer service, have so many failed?

Change focused on customer satisfaction aims to empower employees and build a shared commitment to success. When it fails to deliver the expected results, the culprit is not the strategy, but outdated techniques used to communicate the process.

Many reasons for failure to achieve results have been advanced - including inadequately leadership, unrealistic vision, an uncertain strategy, unrealistic time scales, poor control, ill-equipped managers, insufficient resources, lack of resolve, lack of internal marketing, bad communication and lack of staff commitment. The good news is reserved for those yet to take their leap into the future. Much can be learned from failures - and they show that it is internal marketing, communication and staff commitment that offer the clues as to why things go wrong. Only when the people within an organization want to improve the quality of service, processes and products - to one another as well as the end-customer - can the promises of change be fulfilled. Often companies restructuring the way they work believe that they are "communicating" their new management strategy to their employees. But evidence suggests that they confuse information with communication. After all, providing staff with information is one thing. Gaining commitment is quite another. Such organisations fail to give a clear sense of direction to their people, do not begin to communicate early enough, and use the wrong tools. Their failure lies in the fact that they do not get their employees to "buy-in" to the process. They are ignoring the very people needed to deliver the results that guarantee success.

The "Tell and Sell" Approach

The Marketing & Communication Agency (MCA) recently commissioned independent research from Salford University's British Nuclear Fuels Limited (BNFL) corporate communication unit into how large blue-chip corporations fared in the area of internal communication. The results gave current communication techniques a "thumbs down." Business managers rated their own internal communication effectiveness 5.6 on a scale of 10. If quality means zero defects, then companies clearly have a long way to go. To compound the issue, confusion between information and communication is getting worse, thanks to the rapid uptake of new communication media. E-mail and corporate videos are used by 90 percent of large companies and 40 percent use business TV, according to the Salford University survey. All these companies are confident that they are communicating. Yet as many as two thirds of employees do not believe the content of the messages that such high-tech media distribute, and less than half understand their company's objectives, according to research by MORI, a leading opinion polling organization.

Many businesses are stuck in a time warp trying to use outmoded "tell and sell" approaches to internal communication. The underlying attitude remains: "Dear employee, here is some news...." There is no rigorous attempt to identify the needs of employees, segment them, target them or meet their requirements. Companies try to make do with an outdated technique - employee communication. This is a top-down approach to communicating that does not take employees' needs or concerns into account and so fails to gain their blessing. In short, business try to communicate with their staffs in the same way as they once communicated with their customers. They have not updated internal strategies in the way they transformed their external ones. In the 1960 and 1970s, all eyes were on the product. At MCA, we call this the "tell" phase. As competition intensified, "tell" moved quickly on to "sell." But only when companies stopped trying to sell what they made and started trying to make what their customers wanted did the real leap in effectiveness occur. This was the leap from sales to marketing, a fundamental shift in focus from product to customer.

Hearts and Minds

Limiting the shift to external customers means staff simply does not "buy" the changes. I was first confronted with this dilemma when head of marketing at Welcome Break, a chain of motorway service centres. We had some difficult messages to put across to an already demotivated work force and opted to apply marketing principles inside the organization. We quickly recorded a major difference, and our people's attitude and their behaviour started to change.

The greatest benefit and the greatest challenge of internal marketing comes from not "selling" a change message. It comes from capturing the hearts and minds of the people throughout the organization so that they want to buy into the changes needed for the organization to be able to succeed. Whether these changes are improved quality procedures, increased customer loyalty, higher sales, greater innovation or reduced costs, the only way they will happen is through the efforts of motivated internal people. They (not external consultants, gurus or advisors) are the only ones who will be able to deliver lasting results.

Good internal communication is essential to any quality process. Every part of that process needs to be communicated effectively so that people are able to take part and understand the reasons behind likely changes in procedure. Indeed, people satisfaction is now widely recognised as integral to achieving excellence and is increasingly seen as a more successful long-term strategy leading to better financial results and improved competitive advantage.

The need for people satisfaction is also broadly recognised by the European business excellence model, which incorporates a series of enablers detailing steps needed to achieve quality. These enablers include the disciplines of leadership and people management. Moreover, the model, which underlies the European Quality Award, judges the effectiveness of quality and change initiatives in terms of customer satisfaction, business results, impact on society and, can be enhanced by good internal marketing. Many of MCA's clients, which include Novell, Ernst & Young and General Electric, have moved their score for effective communication from five to nine out of 10. If quality is about customers and satisfying their needs - both internally and externally - then internal marketing is essential to secure staff commitment and to channel this commitment toward a common goal.

Kevin Thompson is chairman of The Marketing & Communication Agency (MCA), Buckinghamshire, England; telephone number (16.2) 847.32.17. At IABC's international conference on June 9th, his subject will be "The New World Communicator: Everyone!"
COPYRIGHT 1997 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:organizational communication of change programs
Author:Thomson, Kevin
Publication:Communication World
Date:Apr 1, 1997
Words:1100
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